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Speaking from both sides …

Kaye Ferry

You should have been there. No. I take that back. Actually, I only said that because, as the old saying goes, misery loves company. Be glad you were spared. I’m talking about the June 20 Vail Town Council meeting. Where to begin? The conference center ballot question is a good a place as any.The question, per Tabor requirements, must read “Shall town of Vail taxes be increased ______?” The blank is to be filled in closer to D-Day, when the final numbers are tallied. The debate was whether it should reflect the total tax, meaning the one approved in 2002 plus the new tax, or just the new tax. The bond attorney will return with two choices.Fortunately, consensus surrounded the finality of the November vote. Yes-no. Up-down. Whatever the answer, that’s it. A no-down vote means the tax stops being collected and is either returned or the question goes back to the voters.We finally got to the main attraction. Crossroads.But first, some background. As previously written, the project was filed as an special development district and as such the boards – ie., the Planning and Environmental Commission and the Design Review Board – do not approve or deny but simply recommend to the Town Council for their final decision. Back on Jan. 18, the applicant appealed to the Town Council a planning commission recommendation of denial. They were summarily dismissed. “We are not the planning board” they were told. “You are trying to make us act as the Planning and Environmental Commission. We are not the Planning and Environmental Commission. You need to sit down with staff and work issues out and go back to the Planning and Environmental Commission. They’re the experts, not us.” So they did. Back they went with the help of staff and addressed the issues. And lo and behold, they did such a good job in the “experts'” opinion that they received a unanimous approval from the Planning and Environmental Commission.One of the key factors in that overwhelming support came when the town’s own planning consultant from Denver presented a comparative review of the size of Crossroads, the new Vail Plaza Hotel and Four Seasons. Relative to those, Crossroads scale seems to be the norm on the new Frontage Road redevelopment. As one planning board member said when their final vote was taken, “If someone had done this comparison before, I would have voted for approval long ago.”With that under their belt, the applicant needed the final stamp from the Town Council in preparation for Design Review Board process. And I don’t know if they were prepared for what happened next, but I surely wasn’t. The council blasted the Crossroads plan with five barrels. I say five because two council members, Moffet and Ruotolo, had the good sense to understand the potential benefits of this project to the community.So let me tell you what irony I personally found in the Tuesday night meeting that went on until 12:20 a.m.You remember the dictate to “go back to the experts”? Well, apparently the Planning and Environmental Commission isn’t the expert any more, because their recommendation does not jive with the opinion of the Town Council. So the expert hat has been moved from the Planning and Environmental Committee to the august body of elected officials who would like to form a committee to design this $300 million project. Design on by committee – what a concept. And all with someone else’s money.What is clear is that the Town Council is now doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do and weren’t qualified to do back on Jan. 18. What a transformation and infusion of knowledge has taken place in such a short time. Would that all of us could receive such a crash course in our chosen endeavors. I think it’s referred to as talking out of both sides of your mouth.The other issue that was relentlessly hammered at was the variances being proposed. More background is needed here.Crossroads is one of three properties in the town that has its specific zoning – commercial service center. Remember, when it was built, it was considered to be in the boonies. It was sufficiently out of town to be thought of a something akin to today’s West Vail, a place for the location of businesses providing local services.Over the course of the years, while other zone districts in the town have been revised as changes have occurred, Crossroads has never been addressed because there was no need to do so. Yet Tuesday night, over and over, the variances requested were a constant topic of debate. No one could keep in mind that had the zoning been updated over the years, as has been the case with all other districts, the variances requested would not be so large. It is only because comparisons were being made to 40-year-old zoning regulations.But here’s where it could get really interesting and where the adage “be careful what you wish for” could come back and bite them in the butt. If zoning regulations were to be followed, here’s what the developer could do with the property because these are some of the current permitted uses: bakeries, grocers, restaurants, bars, personal services, banks, repair shops, business offices, retail stores.Here’s where it gets amusing. Conditional uses (not hard to get, including the temporary real estate office next door) include laundries, cleaners, day care, theaters and dog kennels. If the Town Council is so adamant about following the current zoning, perhaps Mr. Knobel would like to start a kennel. He’d probably do a pretty good business. Fifty yapping dogs in the middle of town would do a lot to drown out the highway noise. Just a thought.One last comment: I’ve never before seen a unanimous decision from one of the boards be ignored and reversed by any Town Council. More next week on how the public weighed in.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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